Future of eBooks: Kobo’s CEO Makes Things Simple

As one of Kobo’s founders seven years ago, I know that companies, especially in their earliest days, live or die on whether or not they can narrow their efforts down to a single target – a problem, a gap in the market, a customers’ unmet need. Here at Kobo, we often tell people we’re a company created by book lovers, for book lovers, and that’s what gives us our focus. Everything we do is devoted to the reader, that person who puts reading at the center of their lives. How do we make that person’s reading life better?

Michael Tamblyn, President and CEO of Kobo

From that simple focus has grown an incredibly complex business: Kobo is both a hardware company and a software company. We sell eBooks through our own devices but also on smartphones and tablets made by others. We are a culture business wrapped in a technology business. We are an e-commerce retailer but find many of our best customers through partnership with traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers. We do a huge amount of business with traditional publishers but also have a thriving self-publishing business that is as large as our largest publishers. We have 27 million customers, e-commerce operations in 18 countries, eBook deliveries to 180 more and eBooks in 97 languages. We are the second-largest manufacturer of eReaders in the world.

And all of it focused on how we make someone’s reading life better.

Our approach to answering that question has evolved over time. Our focus is the same, but as we learn, as we understand the reader better, we start to answer that question in very different ways.

So much of eBook retail, and so much of e-commerce in general, focuses on “what?” questions. What does someone want to read and can we find it for them? What, based on everything we know about them, could they want to do or buy next? What should we surface through merchandising selections, search results, or machine-learning-based recommendations?

Because our one clear focus is how to make your reading life better, these ‘what’ questions have consumed us for years.

To answer these questions, we have built top-rated apps, developed ground-breaking Big Data analytics, designed incredible devices, recruited an incredible team of book experts, data scientists, marketers and engineers. We have studied all different kinds of readers. We collect all kinds of data about them. We look at what they bought and then what the loved – what books did they speed through and which did they abandon, we look at who else liked that book and what else is in their libraries to make connections that feed ever more enticing recommendations. All to answer those “What?” questions better.

But when you think about it, our real fight right now is not just to find the next book. These days, books compete against everything else – games, streaming video, social media, free content, podcasts – a million things trying to answer “What else could you be doing now?” So I am encouraging all of us at Kobo to ask ourselves a different question as we approach the next generation of eReading.

When it comes to reading, I believe that how you read is just as important as what. How do you want to read? It is a much more intangible question, but an incredibly important one, a question that is about the quality of the experience – “How does it make you feel?”

What determines the content that will fill someone’s time, but how is about whether they decide to take that time for reading or not.


To learn more about how you will be reading in the future, click here.

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